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Bill on sequence of elections suffers set back in Senate

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By Henry Umoru

ABUJA-THERE was sharp division among senators on Wednesday over moves to reorder sequence of the 2019 general elections after Presidential veto on the earlier one proposed by the National Assembly through the 2010 Electoral Act ( Amendment) Bill 2018.

The attempt however failed yesterday with withdrawal of a new bill proposed to that effect.

In his lead debate on the Bill titled: ” A Bill for an Act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act to make provisions for sequence of elections in Nigeria and for related matters”,  the Chairman , Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif disclosed that the new reordered sequence of elections would start with Governorship/State Houses of Assembly elections, followed by the National Assembly election and Presidential election last .

When it was time for debate on the bill, the majority of Senators kicked against the bill, which made the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the day’s plenary to rescue it from total death by reverting it to the committee for more legislative input.

In his contribution, Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan ( APC Yobe, North) who kicked against the bill, said that he was totally and comprehensively against the bill, just as he stressed that the right thing is not to legislate for new sequence of elections but to support INEC in the conduct of the elections.

On his part, Senator Kabiru Marafa, APC Zamfara Central who also kicked against the bill said: “This bill will further divide us it is unnecessary, and we should not go to that I don’t want us to finish the way we started.”

But Ekweremadu was however quick to respond to Marafa saying, “let me assure Marafa that nothing will divide this Senate. We will continue to work as one entity; we will aspire toward that.”

The Senate Minority Leader , Godswill Akpabio also kicked against it, saying, “when we initially did the first one that president sent to us, I believe strongly that the National Assembly has the powers to fix sequence of election in the law as opposed to dates, all the judgments so far have talked about dates.

“INEC has the right to fix dates for election, but in terms of sequence of election, I believe we can legislate on it. But my disagreement with the bill is that we cannot approbate and reprobate, as a Senate, we are distinguished people, and we must not speak with both sides of our mouth. The sequence that is proposed here is such that not only has it taken us backwards it shows that we look confused.”

On his part, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola  Adeyeye ( APC Osun Central) who also kicked against the bill by describing it as unconstitutional, said: ” As vice chairman of Senate Committee on  INEC, I state categorically that I totally oppose this bill. There cannot be sequence of elections unless there are dates. And if INEC is given the prerogative to choose and INEC chooses to put one day before the other, let us leave things as they are.

“INEC in the past chose their date, and INEC in the 8thNational Assembly must be given the respect again to choose their date. Anything else, in my opinion, is legislative rascality.”

Though Senators  Dino Melaye ( APC Kogi West) and Mao Ohuambuwa ( PDP Abia North), made spirited attempts to get the bill passed for the second reading, but the overwhelming opposition against it by other senators, rendered their efforts fruitless.

Senator Melaye said, “there is a difference between date and sequence. These are two different issues. While the constitution empowers INEC only to fix date of election but the power for order and sequence of election is within the Constitutional mandate of the National Assembly that ab initio even created the law that enacted INEC as an institution. If we have the powers to enact INEC as institution in this country, then we should also have powers to moderate our activities without tampering with dates.

“Because the first reading of this bill was done yesterday, today to take the second reading will not be okay, some of us believe in research, some of us believe in documentations I’m suggesting that we step down this bill to further legislative days.”

In his remarks, Ekweremadu said: “essentially we here to serve the interest of our people. It is important for all of us to be on the same page in matters such as this.

“We passed the electoral act, and then we sent it to the president, the president returned that bill with a number of observations. One of the observations he made was in respect of order of election; he also made observation with regards to local government elections which the national assembly was given power under that bill to make laws.

“President has made observations in respect of some aspects of that bill; he did not say that the bill we passed was entirely useless. In other to safe those noble provisions in the electoral act it is important that we remove all those areas that president had objected to and pass the remaining items as a separate bill and send it back to him then we can now deal with the issues where he has issues as a separate bill altogether, then we either defeat it or have it succeed.

” If it succeeds, we send it to the president he decides what to do, if he brings it back, we also decide what to do. We need to clean up that bill so that we will be able to safe all those provisions that were already made in the elaborate bill”.

It will be recalled that both the Senate and the House of Representatives had in their passage of the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 in February this year,  proposed a new sequence of elections for 2019 by placing the National Assembly election first, followed by State Houses of Assembly/ Governorship elections and Presidential election last.

But President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed the bill last month on three different grounds,  one of which was the new sequence of elections included in the bill through section 25(1).

The President in his rejection said the inserted section in the electoral act violates the provisions of section 72 of the 1999 constitution which empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC), to fix dates of elections and see to its conduct in all ramifications.

Recall that before the Presidential veto on the bill, some senators led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu ( APC Nasarawa West) including the suspended Senator Ovie Omo- Agege ( APC Delta Central) had kicked against the proposal by alleging that it was targeted against President Buhari and that eventually led to Omo- Agege’s suspension last week.

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